Japan 2017 – Day 3 March 20

Today we got up early due to the time difference, even though we are NOT morning people. By 8:30AM, Kaz, Rick, and John Jack had gone off to teach acting class.Actors Headshot Los Angeles Photographer

After poking about and having morning coffee, checking email, and reading a bit of the ever depressing news from the States, our friend, Seri came by and we nosed about Shinjuku a bit before going to hang out with Kaz and gang.

There were a few actors who had signed up to get head shots done, so I was busy doing that while Kaz translated. We were in a hallway of a building and I was checking out the light there but had decided against shooting there. As we were leaving the area, I looked down and there on the floor was a very special necklace that I had given Kaz years ago. Somehow it had simply fallen off and I found it. Weird.

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After a LONG day of waiting for the teachers to stop chatting with actors, we headed off to the “Robot Restaurant”. It’s a huge production with robots “fighting” dragons, and other robots, and dancing ninjas, and crazy mad costumes of all sorts. It was a formidable costume and light show with lots of loud music. First of all, allow me to clarify…it is NOT a restaurant in any way, shape, or form. It is an amazing, wonderful, colorful, fantastic show….if you are 8-10 years old. Otherwise you will feel completely ripped off. Maybe we’re jaded because we are from LA LA Land, but it takes more that costumes, lasers, and jumping around for me to be drawn in.

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We got a kick out of that and wound our way out of Robot hell to try and find a bar. Dan, Rick’s brother, mentioned there was a fairly famous bar nearby. It’s the Albatros Bar and was visited and recommended by Anthony Bourdain when he was in Tokyo.

When we got there we were informed there wasn’t much room left except a bit in the upstairs loft overlooking a small part of the city. That was great for us, so we headed up the stairs.   The group of Californias asked us “Did you take JAL from LA on Friday?   We were sitting in front of you guys.”   We found out they were at the same show at the Robot Restaurant.  AND one of them were living in SF – where Dan works, and his cousin lives in Little Tokyo in LA.    What are the odds, eh? In all of Tokyo, we ran into them 3 times.

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We had a good laugh, tried to join them for drinks but there wasn’t enough room where they were or where we were the next floor up….so who knows, maybe we’ll run into them again in LA.

When in Tokyo, it’s hard to keep track of time because everything is lit and even at 2 or 3AM people will be scurrying about the city, so at some point we made it back to our house just a little worse for wear.

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Japan 2017 – Day 1 – March 18

Journey to Japan – Day 1

Boarding a plane bound for Japan is an exercise in mixed feelings. We’re SO HAPPY to be going but dreading being trapped in an aluminum tube at 37 thousand feet for 12 hours.Michael Helms Los Angeles Headshot Photographer
I’m jealous of those who can sleep on planes…I can’t. So, I have found the best way for me to pass time is to catch up on all the movies I haven’t seen. “LA LA LAND” was first on my list. What a horrid film…slow paced, predictable, schmaltzy, and I’m sorry but Emma and Ryan are neither singers or dancers. Watch Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire…listen to Julie Andrews or Judy Garland sing.
On the other hand, I LOVED “Moonlight” and feel it deserved to win. Well shot, directed, acted, and a wonderful story that walked a tough line concerning a sensitive and current topic. Sadly, the people who SHOULD see it, probably won’t.
I saw “Doctor Strange” – liked it a lot and recommend it. I’d watch Benedict Cumberbatch read a phone book.

We arrived at Narita Airport and on our way to pick up our baggage, Squi was running through the airport, tripped, fell, smacked his face on the floor and got a black eye. Great….we hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come.

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We got to AirBnB rented house in Shinjuku around 3 in the afternoon and Kaz had to leave soon after to go teach an acting class. Squi and I decided to have a treasure hunt, so we went out on our own and wondered around. The “treasure hunt” consisted of taking photos as we went so we could find our way back home. I think it worked better than bread crumbs. But ultimately we were too tired to walk very far, so we found our way back home, put our feet up, and watched Sumo Wrestling!
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John Jack, the head honcho at The Stella Adler Acting Academy arrived that evening.
So when Kaz got back, we started our first food search.Los Angeles Headshot Photographer
We knew of a teeny hole in the wall restaurant in an alley in Shinjuku called Shinagawa Tei. The restaurant has room for about 8-10 guests and is owned and operated by a little old lady and her son. It’s a VERY popular local eatery and is practically impossible to get reservations but the last time we were there we just walked in at the right time and got seats! So we thought we’d go by and just say hello. As fate would have it, we got there just as they were opening and we got to eat there again!!! When we walked in the little old lady looked at Kaz and said, “OH….Matamura-san!!” We were stunned that she remembered us but so happy to get to have more of their wonderful food.Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer

We love Japan and I’m pretty sure living there part time will be in our future. Also – MANY of these blogs will mention food! Food you can’t get in the US, food that you can get in the US but is WAAAYYY better over there, and food served in a way (both in terms of service and presentation) that you can’t find here in the US.Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer Los Angeles Headshot Photographer

After our meal, we wondered around a bit in Shinjuku before we met up with Rick, an instructor  from Stella Adler, who was also coming in to join the teaching forces.
We’d been up for a LONG time, so after a snack and too many Asahi beers, we crashed  at our house, happy, full, and excited about the days to come!

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Everything is beautiful … NOT!

In the 1960s, Ray Stevens wrote a song titled “Everything Is Beautiful” and it won him a grammy. Perhaps it was the idealism of those times or maybe a personal philosophy that gave birth to this song. It starts out with children singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children”, a song I remember singing in church when I was a child.
“Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world”

Like Disney’s “It’s a Small World”, this song has a worm like infectious tune that rolls around in your brain like a marble in a barrel. A child, once he has learned this song, will hum it, whistle it, and sing it until adult ears bleed. Not only is the tune contagious, the lyrics are ideal and Pollyanna to the point of near myopic blindness.
After one chorus of “Jesus Loves the Little Children”, Mr. Stevens’ song moves into his “Everything Is Beautiful, in It’s Own Way” mantra.
The notion he puts forth in this song is that everyone and everything is beautiful in it’s own way. That if we CHOOSE to see the good, choose to find the positive, and choose to open our hearts to love, then …”the World’s gonna find a way”.

The first thing I want to say is, whatever you do, DON’T listen to this song on YouTube or anywhere else because it will stick in your head. In less than an hour you will be begging for some Beatles, the Who, or a good dose of Led Zeppelin.
But beyond that, I have a bit of a dilemma. I am embarrassed to admit, I actually agree with Mr. Stevens… in theory. I truly WISH it was that way. I WANT to believe the best of people. I WISH the world would live in love. Personally, I choose to live my life that way. I choose to believe the best of people, trust people, and see the best in them … BUT… at 62 years of age I can say it’s not only incorrect, it’s dangerous to walk through life with rose colored glasses.
I have had people steal from me, cheat me, and deceive me in many ways, but I STILL choose to believe the best. I choose to be this way because I cannot live my life in paranoid, bitter, and angry resentment for the few times that people have chosen to be dishonest, deceitful, or deceptive.
As the old saying goes, I can’t allow “one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch” for me. I love life. I love people. I am happy when I see generosity in the world such as the relief efforts for the tsunami in Japan. I am happy when I see a child share a toy.

“Everything Is Beautiful in It’s Own Way” is an ideal I wish were true, but when I go downtown Los Angeles, I won’t leave valuables in my car and I won’t leave it unlocked. What I WILL do, is be the best person I can to everyone I meet. I will try to add something good to the world. And through personal experience, I now have a fairly perceptive filter on who to trust.

The way I see it, not everything is beautiful in the world, but I can add my small part to what is beautiful and I can revel in all the beauty around me. People who refuse to love again because of having experienced heartbreak, are protecting and empty house. Love will teach us freedom and experience will teach us discretion.

Now if only I could get that stupid song out of my head. I’m going on YouTube and look for “Stairway to Heaven”!!! Yeah… gimme some Led Zeppelin

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Repost – Japan Trip 2011 – 11/17 & 18 Sendai-Akita-Minamisanriku

Today we are back on the bullet train heading for Akita. Funny thing about bullet trains…they don’t turn around but rather go to a destination the go backwards over the same tracks. As a result of this, all the seats rotate 180 degrees so passengers can always be facing forward. But it’s odd to look for your seat and notice the numbers going up sometimes and down sometimes depending on which way you are headed.
We had a nice breakfast in Sendai. My girlfriend went ahead to our room to pack while I took a few photos. I went to the restroom in the lobby and as I sat there communing with nature and enjoying the wonderfully heated toilet seat, I noticed a narrow  door in front of me. Out of curiosity, I opened it. A mop with gloves fell out of it and scared the crap out of me! Curiosity will be the death of me.  As I left the restroom, I realized I couldn’t remember what room we were in, I didn’t have the key, and I most assuredly didn’t speak Japanese. Fortunately the charming young ladies at the front desk were helpful and spoke enough English to get me on my way.
Michael Helms Los Angeles Actors Headshot PhotographyWe had purchased a JR (Japan Rail) pass for our trip and it has been wonderfully convenient. So much better than buying tickets every time. It has probably saved us over a thousand dollars in all our travels.
On the way to the airport, our cab driver told us that although he and all his family survived the tsunami, his condo was swept away. I would imagine every person in Sendai has some sort of story about that fateful day.
At the station my girlfriend struck up a conversation with a little old lady who was headed to Akita for a reunion with some of her classmates. She was 86! She was so delightful, cheery, and full of life. She declared,” I will die with my legs and brain working!” So adorable. She gave us 3 heart shaped little felt bags with lavender in them that she had made by hand. Their aroma was yummy.
Out the window of the train we are passing through beautiful autumn colors with snow capped mountains that remind me of my boyhood days in Virginia. The difference is, sticking out of the gently rolling, tree covered mountains, is an occasional steep sided, two times taller, snow covered volcanic peak! Japan is a land of fire and ice, for sure.

Again, it is an odd time displacement, that from the last words I wrote til now has been 18 houMichael Helms Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographyrs. We arrived in Akita and had just enough time to catch a cab, throw our stuff in the hotel, and meet our ride to Akita University where my girlfriend and I are guest speakers. We’re addressing a bunch of students there on the topic ” the conditions of success in Hollywood and effective ways of cross cultural communication, image making, and self advertisement.”
One of my girlfriend’s specialities is corporate training in the area of body language, speech patterns, and intercultural communications. I spoke about corporate image making with, of course, the emphasis on photography and corporate style and marketing imagery. We opened it up after our talks for questions, and had so much fun teasing the students. We got a good laugh by calling their “Drama Club”, the “drunk club”. My girlfriend and I are a good speaking team because we banter a lot. The professor in charge, who was a co-founder of the University, told the student body,”Let’s finish this, so they can continue their argument!” Everyone laughed. It was a lovely evening and charming to see all those young faces with so much of life in front of them. It was so apparent they all had hopes and dreams and I wondered how many of them would realize even a tenth of what they hoped. Most of all, I felt so fortunate to have seen and done all the things I have in my life, including standing where I was at that moment.
Akita International University has, in only 8 years, become the number one foreign language (the students are all required to speak English) school in Japan. An amazing accomplishment.
Professor Katsumata treated us to a wonderful dinner afterwards and again, I got buried in sake. The Japanese can drink and I’m such a lightweight. After ONE day sober, here I was staggering back to my hotel room. My lovely girlfriend can easily put me under the table every time even though she’s a teeny thing. For some reason I don’t get a pounding headache from it though, so that’s good.

Another morning… right now we are on yet another bullet train heading back to Sendai and on to Minamisanriku. While I am looking forward to it, I also have grave feelings of dread. It is a city that was 95 percent destroyed by the tsunami. Fifty percent of the population was washed away. How to shoot it and put a positive spin on that sort of subject matter is clearly impossible but I hope to capture something that speaks of hope. What we are heading for , I am sure will be an immensely moving experience so I will carry a box of kleenex. Strange to be riding the train through beautiful countryside, peaceful farmlands, and lovely homes, knowing I am headed for ground zero of one of Japan’s most horrific natural disasters.

Another time displacement…we spent the night here in Minamisanriku at the gorgeous Kanyo Hotel. It’s unbelievably beautiful. The hotel sits up on a cliff about 150 feet above the ocean. The foundation structures go deep into the rock and all the way to the water. The tsunami tore apart some of the foundation and part of the first floor but the hotel held strong and has been almost completely repaired. It reminds me of Monterey, California. I hope what happened here will never occur there.
We had an amazing dinner. It’s so hard to function normally here knowing what the people in this area have experienced. After we checked in and were headed to our room, we noticed an art show in the lobby. Some wonderful paintings by artist Toshie Hashidate. She was there signing autographs, so we stopped to chat. SEVEN of her family members died in the tsunami. I noticed the head shot on her promo wasn’t very good, so I asked if I could take her photo. She was kind and gracious. I set up some lights and shot her standing next to a row of her paintings. She was gracious and grateful for her new photos. As my girlfriend chatted with her, they discovered they were from the same neighborhood in Chiba, near Tokyo. Small world.
On a side note, it’s so refreshing to be able to shoot most anywhere I want. In Los Angeles, I’d have to get a permit, hire security, and sign all sorts of waivers to shoot in a hotel lobby. Here I didn’t even ask and people were happy to see a photo shoot taking place.
Our room is on the 10th floor facing straight into the Pacific. I can’t begin to imagine the horror they must have seen coming across the water. How do you watch 95 percent of your city wash away knowing many of your friends were taken? This was a resort town but now it is a tragic skeleton. The fishermen who still had boats went right back to work. And oddly, they are building more structures right down near the water’s edge. It seems they HAVE to do this in order to ensure the catch of the day is fresh when they cut it up and prepare it for market and this is Salmon season.
The river that flows through what used to be a town is calm these days except for the fact, it is full of spawning salmon. The salmon have no idea what happened, so they have returned full force with less pressure on their numbers since most of the town has been washed away.It’s odd to see lots and lots of dead Salmon (they swim up the river,spawn, and then die) all over the river banks. It seems strangely metaphorical.. sort of a “cycle of life” kinda thing, I guess. I got very emotional watching the salmon struggle through the shallow parts of the river. I’m sure it is because, just being here, brings everything that is human and compassionate so very close to the surface.

Much of Minamsanriku cannot be rebuilt because the whole area subsided and when the tide comes in, it is now underwater. Some places went down 6 feet or more.

More on all of this when I get home. I have no more time free while we are here…
Off to have more sake! F**K sobriety…I’ll dry out when I get home!   :)

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